“We are deeply concerned. In just a matter of days after the release of Proclamation 360 terminating the peace negotiations of government with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), reports from our partners in the ground speaks of series of gunfights and displacement of people. It seems President Duterte’s pronouncements has now become an actual game plan as armed encounters and abduction resulting to forcible evacuation as military forces search of NPA members and sympathizers in communities like the Lumad communities in the Caraga Region” said in a statement by Yoly Esguerra, National Coordinator of Philippine Misereor Partnership, Inc (PMPI).
Since November 22, intensified military operations are being conducted in several parts of Mindanao. According to initial rapid field report assessment from the Social Action Center of Tandag in Surigao del Sur, some 1,177 individuals or 277 families have been evacuated, at least 4 individuals are reported missing, from the hinterland communities of the municipalities of Lianga, San Agustin and other areas of Marihatag, Tago and San Miguel, all in the province of Surigao del Sur caught in the crossfire between the military and the NPA.
“Our fear that this will lead to skirmishes in communities and displacements of families are coming true. Just this past weekend, Manobo families in Surigao del Sur fled their homes in the wake of renewed military operations against the NPA.” Cathy Ruiz, Cluster Point-person of PMPI Central Visayas Cluster.
Fr. Raymond Ambray of the Diocese of Tandag in Surigao del Sur condemned the ongoing clash, “The Lumads are not only victims of two warring parties but sadly, they now have become targets of the government’s effort to quell rebellion. There is now an outcry for the resumption of peace talks. Military solution will never be a solution at all; it only exacerbates the miserable plight of the affected communities.”
Current emergency situation shows increasing number of people in the evacuation centers are needing food and clothing for days nobody knows how long. Minor medical condition like colds and coughs are being experienced by children and elderly because of exhaustion after long walk under heavy rains just to flee from the battle area. Local government units and civil society may come to respond to this emergency situation. But, how long can this go on?
PMPI calls on the government and the NDFP to stop the gunfight and resume peace talks with the NDFP. Military solution, time and again, has proven to be not only inadequate but more to be inimical to the lives of these people. President Duterte should urgently consider going back to the negotiating table and resume talks to prevent increasing human rights violations and displacement of families and communities.
“As Christians, we can always seek recourse in our faith and prayers that voices of reason prevail and that both sides find that peace is still the only path to take. To reiterate our ongoing prayer: Heal our land. Heal our wounded land,” added Father Ambray.